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History of Florida’s Statewide Assessment Program
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A Chronology of Events: 1990-2000

A Chronology of Events: 1990-2000

The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) is the latest version of Florida’s statewide assessment program. The assessment program was initiated about 1972 and has gone through many changes over the years.

Originally, the assessment program was based on measuring only a sample of students, but this was quickly changed to include all students in selected grade levels. The first series of tests measured students’ acquisition of certain minimum competency skills and the program, generally, was called a “minimum competency testing program.”

In 1976, the Florida Legislature enacted a new accountability act that moved the statewide assessment tests to grades 3, 5, 8, and 11. The Legislature also authorized the nation’s first required high school graduation test, which subsequently was implemented in October 1977.

The concept of a required graduation test was controversial, and the State went through a series of legal challenges culminating in the landmark federal case known as Debra P. v. Turlington. This was a broad-based attack on all aspects of the graduation test, and ultimately, the State prevailed. Students in the graduating class of 1983 were required to pass the competency test to receive a high school diploma.

The Florida Commission on Education Reform and Accountability began conceptualizing the FCAT well before the first test was administered in 1998. In 1995, the Commission recommended procedures for assessing student learning in Florida that would raise educational expectations for students and help them compete for jobs in the global marketplace. The State Board of Education adopted the recommendations, called the Comprehensive Assessment Design, in June 1995. The Design specified the development of new statewide assessments to address four broad areas described in the first four standards of Goal 3 of Blueprint 2000. These four areas have been generally referred to as reading, writing, mathematics, and creative and critical thinking. In addition, the Design required that educational content standards be developed and adopted. Subsequently, the Florida curriculum frameworks, also called the Sunshine State Standards, were developed and adopted by the State Board of Education. The frameworks and standards established guidelines for a statewide system that incorporated assessment, accountability, and inservice training components.

The FCAT was designed to meet both the requirements of the Comprehensive Assessment Design and the rigorous content defined by the Sunshine State Standards. The FCAT measures the content specified within the strands, standards, and benchmarks of the Sunshine State Standards and does so in the context of real-world applications. Initially, the FCAT was designed to assess reading, writing, and mathematics at four grade levels so that each subject was assessed at all levels of schooling: elementary, middle, and high. With legislative approval of Governor Bush’s A+ Plan in 1999, the FCAT was expanded to include grades 3-10. In 2001, achievement for all grade levels will be reported for the first time. The FCAT will become the test required for high school graduation for the class of 2003.

1990 - 1994 was not provided.

The remainder of this document includes a description of the activities that have been completed since 1995.


In 1995, a Request for Proposal (RFP) was written for the design, development, field testing, and implementation of new statewide assessments at the elementary, middle, and high school levels for a four-year period. CTB/McGraw-Hill was recommended as the successful bidder based on a competitive review of all proposals received. Tests in reading at grades 4, 8, and 10, and in mathematics at grades 5, 8, and 10 were added to the ongoing assessment of writing at grades 4, 8, and 10.
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In 1996, the State Board of Education approved the Sunshine State Standards as Florida’s new academic standards, which were then distributed to school districts. The State Board of Education approved a contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill for the development of the FCAT as an assessment tool. In addition, the 1996 Florida Legislature passed laws recognizing the Sunshine State Standards as the academics standards for Florida students, and authorized the February 1997 field testing of FCAT in grades 4, 5, 8, and 10.
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In February, all students in grades 4, 5, 8, and 10 participated in the field test of FCAT reading and mathematics. Four field-test forms were utilized at each grade level to obtain statistical information on a large pool of items. The purpose of the field test was to evaluate the quality of the items before they were included on a test on which students received scores. Using these results, the first form of FCAT was developed.
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In January, students in grades 4, 5, 8, and 10 took the FCAT reading and mathematics tests for the first time. The tests, administered for baseline data, included some performance assessment items and measured students’ skills in grades 4 (reading), 5 (math), 8 (reading and math), and 10 (reading and math). In May 1998, the districts, schools, and parents received the baseline FCAT results. Although the FCAT results were not used for accountability purposes in 1998, the preliminary results were released to schools.

Also in 1998, the Florida Legislature changed the language of Section 229.57, F.S., to permit the identification of students who would not be required to take and pass the High School Competency Test (HSCT). The law permits the Commissioner of Education to designate scores on the tenth-grade Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) and to identify those students whose proficiency is sufficiently strong so as not to be required to take the HSCT.

In the early fall of 1998, educators, citizens, and business leaders from across the state were involved in a process that led to the development of achievement levels on FCAT. The State Board of Education subsequently adopted the achievement level standards that enabled FCAT scores to be reported in a manner consistent with the legislative requirement. In addition, the Commissioner designated the score level for the exemption from HSCT. Students earning an FCAT total mathematics score of 315 or higher were not required to take the HSCT mathematics test; students earning an FCAT total reading score of 327 or higher were not required to take the HSCT communications test. Attaining a high score on the FCAT thus provided an exemption from the HSCT.
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In February 1999, the second administration of the FCAT occurred for grades 4, 5, 8, and 10. School accountability for student performance on the FCAT began with the release of these results. The results from this administration were used in assigning school grades.

The 1999 Florida Legislature authorized an expansion of the state student assessment program. This included additional grade levels and a norm-referenced test component. The requirements of the new law necessitated additional testing services. A Request for Proposal (RFP) was issued in January that addressed development and administration of the expanded FCAT program. Harcourt Educational Measurement received the test development contract, and a bid dispute occurred over the test administration and reporting contract. The bid dispute went to a hearing officer and the Commissioner of Education ultimately facilitated the resolution of the dispute. National Computer Services (NCS), now NCS Pearson, received the contract for the scoring and reporting of the FCAT results. The first tests administered under the terms of the new NCS test support contract were those given statewide in February and March of 2000.
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The third administration of the FCAT took place in February and March 2000 in grades 3-10. Approximately 1,440,000 students in grades 3-10 took the FCAT. Students in grades 4, 5, 8, and 10 responded to performance tasks that required approximately 23 million individual scores. Additionally, all multiple choice items were scanned and recorded. The FCAT scores were reported for the previously assessed grades. However, the assessment at the new grade levels included the field test of the Sunshine State Standards component, and no scores were reported. Scores on the norm-referenced test component were reported for all students at all grades. For the third time, students in grades 4, 5, 8, and 10 received FCAT score reports; however, districts did not receive their school reports until late June because of processing problems encountered by the contractor (NCS). The 2000 results for grades 4, 5, 8 and 10 were used for assigning school grades.